Feb 13

Status of wolf in Michigan debated

Henry Peters
of Ewen plays a recording of wolves howling in the Ottawa National Forest
to those gathered at a public hearing in Marquette Tuesday night. Peters
also showed an aerial photograph of clear cuts in the area where the
recording was made, saying that the cutting has destroyed available
wolf habitat. (Journal phot by John Pepin)

Status
of wolf in Michigan debated

By JOHN PEPIN
Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — State officials heard a range of opinions Tuesday in Marquette
on a plan to reclassify eastern timber wolves as threatened in Michigan.
Currently, gray wolves are protected by federal and state laws as an endangered
species across Michigan, although packs currently inhabit only the Upper
Peninsula. The most recent census estimates about 250 wolves in the U.P.
Having exceeded population target goals since 1999 for Michigan and Wisconsin,
the Michigan Department of Natural Resources hopes to change the status
of wolves to threatened this spring.
That distinction would still protect wolves, but would let the state kill
wolves that repeatedly prey on livestock. In 2000, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service proposed reclassifying the wolves as threatened. The DNR proposal
is patterned after the federal idea, but does not need the federal status
to change first.
“This (state) process is not at all contingent upon the federal process,”
said Pat Lederle, coordinator of the DNR’s Endangered Species Program.
Federal reclassification is expected this summer.
About 35 persons attended Tuesday’s hearing in Marquette.
Henry Peters of Ewen said he thinks changing the wolf’s status is premature.
He doesn’t think enough is being done to ensure the protection of wolves,
while reclassifying their status.
He said clear cuts since 1993 in the Ottawa National Forest have destroyed
wolf habitat. He questioned whether the forest cutting and protecting wolves
are at cross purposes.
Peters showed an aerial photograph of the cuts and played a recording of
wolves howling that he made in the area.
“Most of those wolves are no longer there,” he said. “There
are pressures on our wolves here that I think we need to get real about.”
Lester Livermore, manager of the Hiawatha Sportsmen’s Club in Mackinac
County, favors changing the wolf’s status to allow problem wolves to
be killed.
He says without state control of problem wolves, the animals will be killed
by private citizens. The sportsmen’s club is concerned about large
numbers of wolves in concentrated areas. More than a dozen wolves were reported
from the northwest corner of the hunting club lands. Members asked the DNR
to reduce that number by 10.
“Wolves will be managed,” Livermore said. “If the DNR doesn’t
do it, hunters, farmers and residents will manage them for you.”
Livermore predicts a sharp increase in the number of illegal wolf killings
this year, if the reclassification proposal is not adopted.
Reclassification would be an interim step to removing protections altogether,
if wolf populations remain viable.
Bill Robinson, a hunter and former biology professor involved in a failed
wolf reintroduction effort in 1974, said he supports the reclassification
plan.
But he doesn’t like the idea of trying to eliminate wolves to help
game hunters.
“I don’t believe in managing wolves to produce whitetailed deer,”
Robinson said.
Nancy Warren of Ironwood said she conducts about 25 wolf education programs
each year. Unlike the Wisconsin DNR, Warren said Michigan DNR officials
do not make information about wolf numbers, pack dynamics and locations
easily available to the public.
“The flow of information has stopped,” she said.
Warren said her programs, and the public in general, would benefit from
more data being released by the DNR, as was suggested in the 1997 Michigan
Wolf Recovery Plan.
George Lindquist of Negaunee said he supports having wolves in the U.P.
But he also says there must be a mechanism in place to control expanding
populations.
“I want to have them,” he said. “We just have to know how
to take care of the numbers.”
The DNR predicts as much as a 20 percent increase in U.P. wolf numbers when
current population studies are completed.
John Hongisto of Deerton said he would like wolves reclassified as game
animals, allowing both hunting and trapping. He said wolves have never been
threatened or endangered over their range. Those terms were merely political
designations that have tied the hands of wildlife managers to manage the
species, he said.
Karlyn Berg, wolf and predator conservation consultant for the Humane Society
of the United States, fears that reclassifying wolves will lead to much
too widely used lethal means of control.
“The Humane Society has grave concerns over the proposed reclassification,”
Berg said.
Berg, of Bovey, Minn., said the wolves of Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin
are linked because dispersion of the Minnesota population led to the formation
of those in the other two states. The wolves in all three states should
be considered one population. Berg wants wildlife corridors protected, ensuring
safe places for wolves to travel between the three states.
The idea that increasing numbers of wolves equals increasing numbers of
livestock kills does not bear out, Berg said. When livestock predation does
occur, Berg said that various non-lethal forms of control have proven effective.
Berg said only small numbers of livestock are killed each year in Minnesota.
The state’s wolf population is estimated at more than 2,000.
Lindquist said he’s read articles showing Minnesota livestock losses
are higher than Berg’s numbers.
Judy Allen of Marquette said a balance must be struck between shrinking
habitat for wolves and public tolerance of the species, the so-called “social
carrying capacity.”
“There has to be some middle ground here where people can learn to
live with wolves,” Allen said.
Comments will be accepted on the issue until March 8. A recommendation,
based on comments and other information, will then be made to the DNR director.
The Natural Resources Commission will likely be consulted, although that
step is not required, Lederle said. A decision will then be made by the
DNR director. The entire process is expected to take about three or four
months.
To send comments, write to: Wolf Comment, Wildlife Division, P.O. Box 30180,
Lansing, MI 48909. E-mail comments will also be accepted at wolfcomment@michigan.gov


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